Growing up, I wasn’t the only Jew among my friends—but I was absolutely the only one who was strictly kosher for Passover.
This is not something I say with any sort of judgment. Observation takes many different levels, and while many of us Jews aren’t kosher year-round—or may choose to “eat the right meats” but follow none of the other guidelines—people tend to observe in different ways during this extra-strict week of the year.
In short, something being kosher May through March doesn’t in any way make it also kosher for Passover. While rooted in the prohibition of leavened bread, excluded foods include anything made with wheat, barely, spelt or oats (foods referred to as “chametz”). Many Jews also are forbidden to eat rice, millet, corn and legumes like beans and lentils, as these are considered “kitniot” and are also forbidden—mostly by Ashkenazi, Jews of Eastern European descent. Kitniot are like chametz because they swell (i.e. rise, like leavened bread) when water is added, and they are known to be used as a flour substitute. That is why, say, peanut oil is sometimes okay, but peanuts generally are not.
This means all of us Jews spend a whole lot of time cleaning out our homes before the big holiday, removing all chametz, and then buying and using only foods that are specifically marked as kosher for Passover. Even things that seem completely kosher (so to speak!), like the butter you spread on your matzo, have to have a kosher for Passover seal in order to be used. This is largely because of the production process—and just think about how many foods in your pantry or fridge contain corn syrup!
Whew. It’s a ton of work. And while we joke that Judaism is the original low-carb diet (gluten-free, even!), the truth is growing up, my mom did a heck of a lot of cooking from scratch—everything from matzo pizza to baked goods based on potato starch and matzo meal. Partially, this is because she’s an awesome cook. But also, it’s because the offerings at the store were slim pickings.
That was then. These days, there are some pretty exciting new products being labeled as acceptable for Passover. And I’m all about binge shopping this week. Here’s some stuff I’m all about this season.
Nutella, the popular brand of gianduja, is not kosher for Passover (strictly speaking, it’s not kosher at any point of the year—it simply doesn’t have the certification). But Nocciolata is a very fine substitute. Crafted from ingredients like dark chocolate from the Antillean Islands, Italian hazelnuts and Bourbon vanilla extract, it’s kosher for Passover, and great to binge on about midway through the week when you are just about ready to throw matzo to the curb. Who needs a vehicle? Grab a spoon and eat it straight!
Because of the dietary laws, beer and many spirits are out of the question for Passover, but Passover-ready wine is plentiful—it’s just not traditionally been all that good.
On Passover, we often discuss the ten plagues. I’m convinced there’s an unspoken 11th plague, and that would be the sickly sweet kosher for Passover wine. For years, all we knew was too-sweet Manischewitz. A lot has to do with the process of making wine kosher (a long story for another time that often involves…gah…boiling), but finally, we’ve gotten a few more sophisticated offerings, and just in time to survive that long, long Seder with the extended family. This year, while browsing FreshDirect, I fell upon two amazing finds: Bartenura Prosecco and Teal Lake Moscato d’Aussie. Shockingly affordable, they are both of a refined taste and perfect for a holiday toast. Some other Kosher for Passover wine finds this season include Golan Heights Gamla White Riesling and Recanati Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.
Believe it or not, you can have pasta on Passover—provided it’s made from potato flour and marked Kosher for Passover. It’s traditionally not been all that good though—lacking the texture of “real” varieties—but just as our gluten-free friends are getting better options, the Passover pasta is starting to taste good enough to run my mom’s marinara sauce over. Gefen’s pastas come in tons of forms, but I’m partial to the elbows—nothing says passing through Passover like mac and cheese, and this fits the bill perfectly.
Obviously, bread crumbs are a no-no during Passover, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have spicy fried chicken and other comfort foods. This line by Chef Jeff, the Executive Chef of Abigael’s restaurant in New York, has a bunch of Kosher for Passover verities, but this spicy girl is most excited about Cajun. These panko flakes are imported from Israel and are a great, all-natural way to expand your Passover menu options to dishes that involve frying, filling, and coating.
There’s always been meat options for Passover—it’s a mainstay of the holiday—but the finds are often limited and expensive at local groceries. Whole turkeys are something you have to struggle to find, and even then, options like organic or fresh (not frozen) are not often spotted outside of highly dense orthodox Jewish areas. Whole Foods now carries exclusive poultry offerings from Kosher Valley that include fresh whole young turkeys and chickens, as well as many other options certified by the Orthodox Union and the K’hal Adath Jeshurun. If your area is more likely to have a Whole Foods than a specialized gourmet Kosher butcher shop, this is an incredible find.
Why is this a big deal? Vegetables and meat are easy enough to come across during the holiday and can make a glorious (rice-free, of course) stir-fry. Canola and soy oil are not allowed on Passover, but in general, you’ll usually only have luck finding Olive or cottonseed oil for the holiday. Which is fine, but if you are trying to create a flavorful Asian stir-fry for instance, they are not going to cut it. La Tourangelle makes a whole assortment of Passover-certified oils, but I’m all about this Thai variety that contains blended flavors of Thai basil and lemongrass with expeller-pressed safflower oil.
Many Jews (specifically Ashkenazi) refrain from peanuts during Passover, and beyond that, many peanut butters contain the forbidden ingredient corn syrup. This means there’s several reasons you may not be able to find a kosher for Passover peanut butter, but Gefen’s cashew butter is a great alternative to peanut butter with a decadent, creamy texture.
Aly Walansky is a lifestyles writer based in New York City. Her greatest loves include her shih tsu, soap operas, and extra dirty martinis. Follow her on Twitter at @AlyWalansky.